Tuesday, January 6, 2015
A Paraphrased Plea for the Poor
A Plea for the Poor is one of John Woolman's more influential tracts, originally published in 1793. It has been republished by various political sects over the years because of its racial economic implications. I'm using Pendle Hill Pamphlet #357, and as a new years resolution to myself, I'm attempting to restate, in my own words, Woolman's essay chapter by chapter every week, hopefully adding some of my thoughts and explanations of why I've departed from the original. A Plea for the Poor or A Word of Remembrance and Caution for the Rich Wealth desired for its own sake obstructs the increase of virtue. Large possessions in the hands of a few selfish people are engineered to oppress, for they employ too few to do useful things, instead leaving the majority to scramble to feed themselves by working for enterprises that appeal only to vanity and depend on vain minds for their income. Rents are often so high that people who have limited opportunity suffer, and those that can escape do so by labouring and scrimping more than was intended by our gracious Creator. People are often seen working so hard that their eyes and the emotion of their bodies broadcast loud and clear that they are oppressed. When they work in multiple shifts, fear of harsh discipline by their supervisors is all that keeps them going through the day. Often reasonable accommodation is denied and schedules are jerked around owing to the demands of business, blind to the needs of their employees. These things are common for a healthy enterprise, but they soon lose the value that the employees bring, losing capital through poor training, and losing qualified staff. This can be quite a weight on a failing business, so they rely more on existing staff, cutting back new hires even if they're sorely needed. So a poor single mother, attending her kids, providing for her family, and helping her extended community, does two or three times the work that should be required of her and her family life suffers. The money that rich folks receive from the labours of poor folks is often paid to other enterprises that aren't necessarily related to their business and are foreign to the true use of things. People who have large possessions and live in the spirit of charity, who look after and care for those who work for them, and who are unaffected by the customs of the times, but who treat everyone with universal love- these who are righteous on principle, do good to the poor without placing it as an act of bounty. Their example tends to incite others to moderation. Their goodness in not taking advantage of their workers, even if it is legal, moderates labour trouble and discourages the industries that are not founded in true wisdom. To be busy catering to vanity, and serving fickle tastes necessarily strengthens those who promote and sell vanity, and is a snare that many ordinary working people are entangled in. To be employed in things connected to virtue is most agreeable to the character and inclination of an honest man. Industrious frugal people who are borne down with poverty and oppressed can be helped in a way that doesn't promote pride and vanity, but only by those who can truly sympathise with their difficulties. ...................................................................................... I've departed a bit from the original here, and I think it will be a theme. John Woolman lived in a much different time economically, but the workings of Capital are very familiar, so I didn't feel too disingenuous in switching a passage about treatment of animals into a treatment of part time wage workers especially since there has developed in the last few decades the horrifying language of 'human capital. He also places more emphasis on the works of proprietors which doesn't resonate fully in our more corporate economy, but in a way, this makes his points more poignant. It is less possible for a corporate entity to exude a sense of universal love certainly, but that is what is necessary, or else a different system must be built. He'll get to that in a bit.